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Hands-on review - Apple iPad 8th Gen 2020

If there’s one thing you can rely on Apple for, it’s familiarity. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing - it’s nice to pick up a device which, on the surface, looks familiar and therefore not complicated, nor threatening to confuse you with new mechanics and features. 

Being an owner of an iPad 5th generation, it’s hard not to make comparisons between the old tablet I bought in 2017 and the iPad 8th generation - on the surface, they look practically identical. 

It’s familiar, but that’s what many people are after - the same device but slightly better, an iPad to do iPad things, like browsing e-commerce sites, reading e-books, watching YouTube. This iPad does all that, and a little bit more - and at NZ$570 for a 32GB version, it’s a remarkably good deal.

So how does this new, 10.2 inch iPad stack up?

Design

While familiarity can work in some circumstances, I was disappointed at being unable to distinguish, on the surface, between the iPad 8 and the one I bought over three years ago. 

Both the front and back (including the camera) look identical - the only difference is the iPad 8 has a slightly larger screen. The new offering keeps the Touch ID home button - no face recognition here - and the sleep and volume buttons are all unchanged as well. It even retains the headphone jack.

While the design itself is great, I do wish there was at least something different for iPad 8.

Performance

The similarities to iPad 5 end here - this device is, thankfully, much faster.

Armed with an A12 Bionic processor, iPad 8 adds a boost to its graphics and a neural engine for some AI tasks, and it definitely feels like a fast device. On several occasions, I switched between Procreate, YouTube, my browser, games and news apps, with relative frequency, and noticed no dip in performance.

This also helped with the excellent responsiveness of the Apple Pencil. Procreate, my preferred software for creative endeavours with the pencil, worked great. 

The retina 2,160x1,620-pixel display also looks good, also a massive improvement over my old iPad - a quick side-by-side comparison of the same YouTube video produced surprisingly stark results. Its screen also features LED-backlit multi-touch and 500 nits brightness.

Overall, the performance definitely holds up, and the iPad 8 works great for me as someone who uses a tablet for mostly recreational purposes. For those who demand more, performance-wise, out of their machines, the Pro or Air models from this year will probably be preferable. But for a casual student, remote worker, or recreational user, this device works great.

iPadOS 14

Connecting a mouse to a tablet wasn’t necessarily something I wished Apple would bring to the iPad, but now that I can, I don’t want to go back.

The responsiveness was superb, and in combination with the Apple Smart Keyboard, productivity can go full steam ahead - including the writing of this review.

One of the major changes to iPadOS for this generation is the Scribble feature, which allows users to use their own handwriting with Apple Pencil to create notes. The handwriting recognition works better than most I’ve seen in that it recognises most of my shocking writing. 

It’s not groundbreaking technology, but it’s still useful if you’re in the middle of a Procreate project and want to note something down without getting the keyboard out.

iPadOS 14, in general, felt like a significant upgrade to its predecessors - the widgets were much more intuitive, and I appreciated the subtle differences in design, which I found more minimal. One slightly irritating thing was that I had to jump through hoops to figure out the battery percentage of my Apple Pencil, as it doesn’t show up on the Control Centre. 

Speaking of battery, this device has a great one. It’s advertised as having an all-day battery life, and it definitely does. 

Its 32.4-watt-hour battery provides for hour upon hour of performance-heavy tasks - watching three or four hours of videos only took out 30% or so.

The charging is also super-fast - included in the box is a 20-watt charger, which does the job in around two hours. Another criticism though - this iPad comes with a Lightning port, rather than USB-C, which I feel is a bit behind the times.

Verdict

It may not be groundbreaking, but the 8th generation of iPad has all the bells and whistles that a casual user could ask for, and for an exceptionally reasonable price. It performs well and the new features brought about by iPadOS 14 serve it well.

There are a couple of quirks that Apple could improve upon, but not enough to irk someone who’s after a tablet for some light work, schoolwork or recreation. It may look identical to the iPad I bought three years ago, but its features back it up. And at this price point, it’s a great deal.